Most bizarre Japanese anime ever made

From experimental short films to David Lynchian psychedelic rollercoasters and movies that leave you feeling like you just witnessed the opening of a gateway to an alternate dimension, here's a look at some of the most bizarre Japanese anime ever made.

Paprika

Satoshi Kon's swirling sci-fi anime Paprika emulates the qualities of its spiced namesake, dropping the viewer into a gleefully surreal setting filled with larger-than-life creatures, half-human hybrids, and sentient refrigerators. But that's not the strangest part. Kon doesn't just weave this world; he stitches it together and promptly rips it apart as Paprika unfurls into kaleidoscopic chaos.

Based on Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1993 novel of the same name, Paprika centers around Doctor Atsuko Chiba, a research psychologist who begins testing a groundbreaking new psychotherapy tool, code-named "DC Mini." The device allows users (unsettlingly enough, even those who aren't doctors) to enter people's subconscious minds to get glimpses at their dreams and rewire their personalities. Under the ginger-haired guise of her alter ego "Paprika," the doctor illegally slips into her patients' minds, initially hoping to help alleviate their anxieties and mental trouble. But when the tech is hijacked soon after, things go haywire. We're talking building-leaping, skin-peeling, body-morphing crazy.

It's a story reminiscent of contemporary tales that caution meddling with the minds of mankind, told through a deeply bizarre, often nightmarish, lens that erases the line between real life and pretend. Critics have called Paprika an "eye-opening mind trip" not meant to be understood, a film that rarely makes sense for all its "challenging and disturbing and uncanny" elements.

Cat Soup

Cross anthropomorphic kittens and a creepy sort-of coming-of-age tale, and you've got Cat Soup. Inspired by the works of manga artist Nekojiru and directed by Tatsuo Satō, this bite-sized anime follows the relationship between two tiny (and alarmingly astute) cats—Nyāko, who is extremely ill, and Nyatta, who's rendered clinically dead after a tragic accident. 

Not willing to give up on his dying sister, Nyatta embarks on an engrossing, grotesque voyage to rescue Nyāko's soul from a feline version of the Japanese Buddha-like figure Jizou. The pair swap bodies, split souls, shove their hands inside a giant pig, and take part in a Noah's Ark scenario (featuring a penguin-type bird, a water elephant, and a god who tries to eat the planet) in their spirit-searching journey. This all happens between bursts of practically indescribably trippy imagery. But if we had to stamp it with a single sentence description, it'd be this: Cat Soup is Salvador Dali mixed with Hello Kitty, and it's super, super weird.

Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem

Your eyes aren't deceiving you: there really are that many numbers in the title. If the name alone didn't tip you off that this anime is something else, what goes down in Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem will boggle your brain.

Directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi, known for his work in multiple Dragon Ball series installments, this anime can best be billed as a Daft Punk Fantasia: no dialogue, just the musical stylings of the French electro-punk duo set to oozy, retro-inspired visuals done by Toei Animation under the keen eye of Leiji Matsumoto. While Interstella 5555 (simply pronounced four-five, you know, to save us a twisted tongue) is essentially a strung-together music video, an aesthetic accompaniment to Daft Punk's 2001 album Discovery, it actually tells a story. And a strange one at that. 

We follow a rag-tag band of alien musicians who, in an ironic twist of fate, get abducted and shipped off to Earth to play for legions of adoring fans—but there's a catch. Skin-altering surgeries, species exploitation, and a rogue pilot (Poe Dameron, is that you?) who will go to the end of the universe to save the band's female member await you in Interstella 5555, the anime that plays out like a techno-driven fever dream you won't ever forget.

Summer Wars

From the mind of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time director Mamoru Hosoda comes Summer Wars, an anime that's just as much a family drama as it is a cyber-punk heart-stopper. The sci-fi story follows Kenji Koiso, a shy math prodigy who gets invited on a summer family getaway to celebrate his peer's great-grandmother's birthday. The breezy festivities go swimmingly, until Kenji gets caught up in a scheme involving the Facebook-adjacent social site OZ. 

When the domain is hacked by the sadistic AI interface, it's suddenly hellbent on preserving the world by destroying it. Kenji puts a valiant foot forward, attempting to stop the system before it's too late, and what comes of his efforts is a ripple effect of strange Gorillaz-esque animation, head-tilting fight sequences, and a tangled web of familial tension that would have the Royal Tenenbaums running for the hills. Not only is the film wonderfully weird, it's a stellar anime, and also a great lesson in never, ever trusting technology. But hey, we won't want to be the gadget-hating curmudgeons over here.

GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack

Simply put, GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack is strange. This anime has a storyline that runs parallel to so-bad-it's-good series like Sharknado and runs with the "have sex and you'll die" theory shown in old-school slasher flicks like Friday the 13th.

The title pretty much explains it all: fish rise from the sea, going bipedal on shiny metal legs to terrorize the city of Tokyo. Viewers watch as Kaori bobs and weaves through the crowded streets of Japan to reconnect with her boyfriend, Tadashi, all while dodging the pungent fish-beasts. As GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack runs on, waves (pun intended) of sea creatures come crashing to the shore, and increasingly odd elements are added to the anime mix. There are incredibly cheesy romance scenes, spooky circus leaders, power-hungry mad scientists not unlike Dr. Frankenstein, mutants with bathroom-based powers, and a squid that may make you never want to eat seafood again.

Because GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack is based on a horror manga series, the film features its fair share of gory moments, but the violence is slashed in severity when you remember that the perpetrators are literal walking fish. After all, it's hard to be scared when you're up against the aquatic equivalent of a centaur.

Mind Game

Adapted from Robin Nishi's Japanese comic of the same name, Mind Game is the weird work of one-time Adventure Time writer and director Masaaki Yuasa. The story centers on Nishi, a young man who dreams of one day becoming a comic book artist and winning the heart of his childhood crush. After the two brush a bit more than just shoulders with the Japanese mafia, Nishi gets trapped in a spiritual limbo.

Filled to the top with mind-bending existential themes and freckled with "cartoonish over-exaggerated expressions" and "bizarre photographic manipulation," Mind Game soars through Nishi's wild journey back to the living world on a road marked with giant whales, caricatured villains, dancing strippers, and neon car chases, promising an "unapologetically raw, fresh, and bizarre" experience that amounts to a "new form of psychedelia."

Tamala 2010

Another cat-centric anime, Tamala 2010 zeroes in on the hyper-energetic adventures of a spacefaring kitten named (you probably guessed it) Tamala. Regarded as "a punk cat in space," Tamala is seen fleeing the cruel city of Meguro to return to her home planet, one that isn't controlled by the nefarious super-corporation Catty & Company. But before she reaches her mythical interstellar abode, Tamala runs into some snags in space—not the least of which include landing a planet run by dogs that exhibit prejudice in an all-too-real fashion. 

Of course, that's just the tip of the offbeat iceberg in Tamala 2010. As the film starts shooting off into some seriously warped tangents, the monochromatic pop-art visuals grow even more haunting. There's also a 20-foot tall Colonel Sanders who carries a plate of fried chicken through the streets of Meguro City, a figure that makes for the perfect cherry on top of this "head trip" anime sundae.

Dead Leaves

This 2004 sci-fi anime shifts the entire world into overdrive. Dead Leaves tells the tale of two unlikely rebels, Retro and Pandy, who are shipped off to the titular prison after committing an insane string of crimes. While locked up, the pair meet some out-there characters (like a prisoner who has a drill in place of a penis… seriously) and put their patience to the test. 

The story only gets weirder as the plot unwinds. Without spoiling the madcap twist, Retro and Pandy's post-prison adventures see them encountering an oversized demon caterpillar and a mutant baby, crash-landing onto a dystopian Earth, and possibly breaking the space-time continuum.

Helmed by Kill la Kill director Hiroyuki Imaishi, Dead Leaves has earned the colorful description of "cracktastic" due to its strange premise and flashy animation style, and has been likened to something a filmmaker would create after "doing a rhino-sized dose of super-distilled crack cocaine and LSD." How's that for bizarre?

Tekkonkinkreet

Judging a film by its title is generally frowned upon, but in this case, it adds to the oddity. Tekkonkinkreet, literally translated from Japanese to English as "reinforced concrete," holds strong and true to a central aesthetic vision and an underlying moral tale. 

This adaptation of the manga series by Taiyo Matsumoto envelops penniless orphan brothers Kuro and Shiro (a.k.a. Black and White) in sights and sounds that dizzy and dazzle the viewer. Black and White thieve their way through Treasure Town without much trouble—that is, until the Yakuza enter the scene. Upon the arrival of the notorious Japanese gang, Tekkonkinkreet devolves into a disturbing, hypnotic string of scenes that flip-flop between true crimes and the acid-trippy world of Shiro's mind. As with a few other anime on our "most bizarre" list, Tekkonkinkreet will move you, but not before shaking you to your core with its unsettling strangeness.

Angel's Egg

Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg tells the story of a young girl who lives alone in a lair in an abandoned city, where she serves as the sole protector of an enormous egg that apparently holds great value. After a mysterious boy joins her, the two witness several mystical happenings involving orbs, goddesses, and angels, and chat briefly about philosophy and theology.

Though the film clocks in at around 80 minutes, not much of its runtime is comprised of actual dialogue. Instead, the avant-garde anime leans on a wispy plot and heavy, abnormal visuals, doubling down in the final "act" to reveal a cryptic half-resolution.

The Animatrix

Borne from the brains of the Wachowski sisters, The Animatrix is a nine-part anime anthology that goes hand-in-hand with their Matrix movie series. With a slew of Japanese and American directors on board (including Koji Morimoto, Shinichiro Watanabe, Mahiro Maeda, Peter Chung, Andy Jones, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Takeshi Koike), east meets west in each of the collection's short installments. Lead director Koji Morimoto steers the series into fanciful unconventionality as the overarching story is consistently disrupted with rattling scenes of violence and deep introspection. The Animatrix features robots, haunted houses, vengeful mistresses, giant-lipped humans, and crazy-powerful ninjas and samurai, all portrayed in a disjointed visual style. 

Fans have regarded each of the anime shorts as well-crafted and strange, tiny hallucinogenic trips that "out-Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey," with the final installment, Matriculated, spinning out into become a "CG funhouse, with psychedelic colors and crazy characters coming in left and right." In the time since its 2003 release, the collection has become well known for its narrative eccentricities and bizarre aesthetics.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is set in a far-off future that mixes the apocalyptic chaos of the Mad Max movies with the drama of old Hollywood westerns, and sprinkles in some steampunk vibes for good measure. And though the film does follow a tried-and-true narrative in the battle between vampires and werewolves, it's the actual monsters that will make you want to jump out of your own skin. Why does D, the anime's protagonist, have a fully-functional face nestled in his palm? Why can it talk and eat like a human's mouth would? Why does D fight a pinwheel-shaped Hydra of half-naked women? Apparently, just because. With its unconventional creatures, creepy plot points, and wild twists and turns, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust proves that all is fair in love, war, and bizarre anime.